The New York Red Bulls of the MLS – whether they realize it or not – have embarked on a project that will change North American soccer forever. Earlier this summer they signed French allstar Thierry Henry and recently confirmed that they have added the Mexican legend Rafael Marquez to their lineup. For the New York Red Bull, at a micro-scale, this project involves creating a team that is built to make a championship run. At a macro-scale, they are raising the bar for soccer in North America as a whole. Marquez and Henry are both coming from arguably the best team in Europe: FC Barcalona.
Both of these players currently at the top of their games, bring leadership, knowledge, skill and much needed excitement to sport that has been dormant in this regard. Not only did these two players hold crucial roles in Barcalona’s lineup, they were key pillars in Barcalona’s solidification as not only one of the best teams of our modern era, but of all time. So what does the addition of these two stars really mean to North American soccer?
First, lets consider the effects from a media standpoint. In an age of information and technology, one of the best ways to expose a sport, brand, team or club is to increase media coverage. What better and quicker way is there than to go through the media filter. Why does this matter you ask? The answer is quite simple. Media coverage has to capacity to create a buzz around the sport of soccer that no one else can. Take the World Cup as an example. Because it is broadcasted and marketed so well and so abundantly for the month that it lasts, sales of merchandise is higher than it ever is; more people than usual are glued to the television wanting to see the beautiful game; increased awareness and interest yields more kids joining soccer teams and kicking a ball around for fun; and finally, players, sponsors, coaches and teams are provided with the opportunity to expose their skill, their talent, their team, their brand and so on. With increased media coverage, more people world wide are given the opportunity to take notice. In effect, the higher the media’s coverage is on an issue, the higher the general publics interest will be in that same issue. Let’s not be naive and forget the media has the ability to shape a society and its interests. All this having been said, with the addition of two high profile players in New York, North American media – and worldwide media for that matter – will pounce at the opportunity to report on these two players. The result? Increased public awareness about the MLS and the New York Red Bulls and consequently – yet conveniently – increased public interest in North American soccer. This will materialize into more people watching games; more people buying merchandise; more people wanting to join teams and play…you get the idea.
Now let’s consider the effects from a quality standpoint. The basic laws of life suggest that, at the end of the day, quality will outperform quantity no matter what. Although quality is often more expensive and more time consuming than creating something in large quantities, the benefits cannot be ingnored. What the New York Red Bull have done is add quality versus quantity. The New York Red Bull could have easily gone on a hunt within the MLS and found very good players that would cost them a lot less money than their current signings would have costed, but thats not the idea. The idea is to increase quality, not quantity. With Henry and Marquez both playing for the New York Red Bulls, it isn’t simply that the team will be better because they have two great players, no; they will be better because these two players will force other players to work harder, to work smarter and to work better. No longer will the New York Red Bulls be able to settle for mediocrity; they are now being forced to play the game as it should be played or else the two superstars will quickly lose interest and shortly thereafter leave back for Europe.
And so, North American soccer will never be the same. Leadership. Skill. Ball control. Technique. Style. These are all traits that have been perfected by European soccer players. With the addition of Henry and Marquez, these traits are going to begin to be absorbed by all of North American soccer. The rest of the teams in the MLS are going to have keep up or shut up now. If they don’t enhance the quality of their teams and the quality of their players, teams like the New York Red Bulls are going to continue to raise the bar while the rest can’t get off the ground. Thank you New York Red Bull, thank you for raising the bar and forcing soccer to improve.